Growth hormone, obesity can trigger sleep apnea in some kids

Growth hormone helps hundreds of children with a rare disorder that causes them to gorge on food, but for some, starting treatment can worsen a dangerous nighttime breathing problem, University of Florida researchers have found.

Sleep apnea disrupts breathing during sleep and is common among morbidly obese children, including those with Prader-Willi syndrome, a disease that compels them to eat nonstop. Researchers say that uncovering how to treat obesity and related problems in children genetically wired to be overweight could help them better battle childhood obesity in general.

Growth hormone has shown to be one of the most effective ways to treat children and adults with Prader-Willi. But UF researchers found that starting treatments can worsen or trigger sleep apnea in obese children exposed to colds, potentially leading to death, according to findings published online recently in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.

"Every kid we studied had abnormal sleep at the beginning, before growth hormone," said Jennifer Miller, M.D., a UF assistant professor of pediatrics and the study's lead author. "On growth hormone, most of them got better but not all of them. The ones that got worse tended to be school age. Some of them were just entering school and then they were coming home with upper-respiratory infections.

"The combination of starting growth hormone, still having weak muscle tone, having an illness and/or being obese tends to put you at risk for having really bad obstructive sleep apnea."

The researchers urge doctors to monitor patients' sleep before and during treatment for signs of obstructive sleep apnea, such as loud snoring or abnormal daytime sleepiness. Sleep studies are recommended for all obese children, not just those with Prader-Willi, Miller added.

Prader-Willi syndrome is caused by a rare chromosomal defect and occurs in only one of every 12,000 to 15,000 people, according to the Pra

Contact: April Frawley Birdwell
University of Florida

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